Clarkson: Undeterred by rain, graduates shine as high school chapter ends

Sara Clarkson
Sara Clarkson
Sara Clarkson
For Sun-Times Media
June 2 11:30 a.m.

Last August, I wrote a column headlined “First day of senior year greeted with hope, doughnuts and the sun,” and I can tell you the conclusion of that story with “Hinsdale Central seniors commemorate last day with joy, umbrellas and the distant roar of thunder.”

In between, of course, came lots of frigid weather, 80 inches of snow, thousands and thousands of college applications, the prom and many other events both life altering and mundane.

Yet, hundreds of graduating seniors flocked to the football field May 27, ignoring the gathering clouds to watch the sun set on their senior year just as they had promised to when they watched the sun rise on it in August. The August event was remarkable because not many of them had opened their eyes that early (6:08 a.m. that day) in several months. Last week’s sunset experience was remarkable because of the monsoon-like conditions which were unable to dampen the teens’ spirits. An umbrella kept me — an interloper at best and a “mom” at worst — incognito as I observed this new Hinsdale Central tradition.

Abby Gurka and friends collected the group together for quick photos and for some words from comedian Andy Samberg’s 2012 Harvard address which began, “Students, faculty, grandparents, uncles that weren’t invited but showed up anyway.” Gurka read the speech from her iPhone, continuing: “this is the first day of the last day of your life. No, that’s wrong. This is the last day of the first day of school. Nope that’s worse. This is a day.” The rain strengthened, and the students determined that the sun had set.

Kate Ryan, one of the student leaders who started the tradition of watching the sun rise on and set on senior year said she felt bittersweet about it. Just nine months ago, she and all her friends were so eager to start their senior year, and now they were eager to move on and start their new college lives.

This spirit of hope was carried on at the entirely student-run and student-initiated Hinsdale Central baccalaureate service the next night. Close to 50 students conducted a service of praise, thanksgiving and testimony to the strength and purpose of God. The service was not just touching but encouraging to them, to their fellow students and to their families, who were specifically invited and included this time.

The baccalaureate service included skits gently satirizing their years in high school (“mom” seemed to figure prominently but I’m probably being too sensitive and overthinking) as did their academic efforts.

“I got three hours of sleep last night,” bragged one student to her classmates, who were so bogged down in an alphabet soup of tests (the ACT, SAT, AP and so on) that they hadn’t seen the sun in months.

The service also featured scripture readings, testimonies of faith and music both instrumental and singing. The students who offered testimonies talked about their faith journeys and their transformations, and the scripture readings were various. One from the book of Joshua seems to capsulate a major theme for the evening: “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Godspeed and Amen.

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